“Running With My Girls:” Catching Up With Councilwoman CdeBaca

Candi CdeBaca and Lisa Calderón Photo courtesy of Rebekah Henderson

“No justice, no peace,” protestors can be heard chanting amidst sirens blaring and “justice for George Floyd” signs waving in the opening credits of Rebekah Henderson’s film “Running With My Girls.” The 97-minute documentary chronicles the journey of various women of color vying for positions within local government, including an RTD district director position, several Denver City Council posts, and a bid for Denver mayor.

Within the first five minutes of the film, Henderson narrates her personal experience of disillusionment: living in Denver with the desire to raise her mixed-race child in a progressive city with the promise of a black mayor, she cuts to the harsh realization that Denver is “not as dope as people think. Especially if you’re not white.”

“The real end goal is building community power. Building knowledge that will carry people far beyond my race.”

Candi CdeBaca

Henderson’s documentary highlights the unique barriers women of color face while running for office in “one of the fastest gentrifying cities in the nation.” Most talked about is the inaccessibility of capital, capital that appears to be readily available for white candidates. This reality makes it all the more impressive when Lisa Calderón, featured in the film as a mayoral candidate seeking to become the first female mayor in Denver’s 160-plus-year history, comes in third place despite running a campaign with a mere fraction of the money her opponents and the incumbent had.

Perhaps most surprising to viewers is that the focus of the film (and of the candidates themselves) is not on election outcomes. The filmmakers and candidates alike seem to be concerned with something far more important: building community. City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca was careful to explain that her personal success was not the end goal. “The real end goal is building community power. Building knowledge that will carry people far beyond my race.”

CdeBaca’s win was historic: she is the first LGBTQ Latina and the first Democratic Socialist to serve on the Denver City Council. In the film, staffers can be seen telling CdeBaca she won her runoff election, and the electricity of the moment is palpable, even years later. On the night of the runoff election, CdeBaca relayed she felt “a sense of peace and a newer sense of appreciation for my community” as she went door-to-door canvassing right up until 7 p.m.

CdeBaca elaborated on how she does not believe “just anybody” should run for office. She stated, “I think that people who run should be rooted in their community to a degree that it is a community decision to run because you cannot cross that finish line alone.” In the documentary, she talks about how it was actually her niece who planted the seed that convinced her to run for office with a simple question of, “tía, if you’re so mad, why don’t you just run?”

As a first generation high school graduate and first generation college graduate, CdeBaca is no stranger to the difficulty and discomfort that accompanies feeling like a lone voice. When asked if she has advice for young women of color in Denver, CdeBaca responded, “We are the new American majority and I think that with that, comes responsibility… knowing that these cities belong to us, these states belong to us, this country belongs to us, is critical because when something belongs to you, you take better care of it.” CdeBaca added, “I don’t think we’ve ever been socialized to believe that this belongs to us.”

Although CdeBaca is beyond what she describes as “a slice of my life that was probably one of the most difficult slices of life that I’ve lived through,” her fight is not over yet. On the City Council, CdeBaca remains a staunch advocate for the most vulnerable members in her community: individuals experiencing homlessness, poverty,
and incarceration. 

Within her first two years in office, CdeBaca achieved a number of victories, including securing one million dollars in legal defense for Denver residents facing eviction and co-authoring The Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) Program’s expansion funding to send mental health experts (instead of police officers) to 911 calls related to mental health crises. 

Currently, CdeBaca and her team are encouraging Denverites to get involved in the redistricting process for city council districts in hopes of “turning gerrymandering on its head.” New tools allow the public to generate their own redistricting maps and CdeBaca’s office has been running workshops across District 9 to teach people how to use these tools–and their voice–throughout
this process.

For those interested in attending a workshop Cdebaca’s office is hosting (no need to reside in District 9), email district9@denvergov.org. To learn more about “Running With My Girls,” visit runningwithmygirls.com

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